Thursday, September 15, 2011

Former Acton Parent Teachers Group treasurer avoids jail time in embezzlement case; Shannon Winchell ordered to serve community, pay back stolen funds in New Hampshire -

The former treasurer of the Acton Parent Teachers Group will not serve time in jail for stealing $29,000 from the PTG over three years, but she has been ordered to do community service for the town and pay back the funds.

Shannon Winchell, 34, of Acton, was sentenced to two years in jail, all suspended, with an additional two years probation for embezzling $29,000 when she was treasurer of the parent-teacher group.
In a sentencing hearing in York County Superior Court Wednesday morning, Justice Paul A. Fritzsche also ordered that Winchell serve 250 hours of community service — in Acton, if possible — over the next 22 months and send a written apology, through the District Attorney's office, to members of the PTG. She must also pay back the money she stole from the organization.
Winchell was indicted by a York County grand jury in April for theft, "by obtaining or exercising unauthorized control over $27,000, more or less, property of Acton Schools Parent Teacher Group . . ." The actual amount was closer to $29,000, according to testimony at Wednesday's hearing.
The theft was discovered by members of the Acton PTG in August 2010 when they began to receive past-due notices for bills that had not been paid. They also found that the PTG's bank statements did not correspond to the treasurer's reports, and that the group's account balances were considerably lower than they should have been.
On the advice of an investigator in the York County Sheriff's Office, PTG officers questioned Winchell about the missing funds. She was removed from office and the sheriff's office launched an investigation.
Winchell pleaded guilty to Class B felony theft during an Aug. 25 court hearing.
At Wednesday's sentencing, Winchell's defense attorney, Joseph Mekonis, told Justice Fritzsche that his client had already repaid more than half of the amount owed to the PTG.
After a brief exchange between Mekonis and Assistant District Attorney Kent Avery, it was determined that Winchell has so far reimbursed $20,281.94 to the PTG.
"She is one of the most motivated clients I have ever had," Mekonis said, adding that Winchell had already taken "a number of measures" to try to right the wrong she had done when she called and asked him to represent her.
Winchell told the court that she works 30 hours a week as a cleaner in a hospital to pay the money back.
Speaking at the hearing for members of the Acton PTG, Vice President Susan Ottey asked Justice Fritzsche to "show no leniency in sentencing." Reading from a prepared statement, Ottey said Winchell had deprived the school and its students of opportunities to attend camp and benefit from new equipment, and the PTG had to postpone the purchase of a fire engine for the playground.
Ottey said the theft had also cost the PTG "the confidence, trust, and respect of all those who had generously donated in the past."
Fritzsche agreed that embezzlement make things very difficult for an organization.
"Normally, I would say there has to be some amount of jail time," he told Winchell. "What's different here is that you have worked very hard" to pay back the organization, he said. "That's really quite remarkable."
The community service aspect of Winchell's sentence may be more difficult to fulfill.
She said she had spoken to the Acton Elementary School principal and received permission to serve as a volunteer in the school, but that the new superintendent had declined the offer. Winchell said she had also asked to be allowed to volunteer at the town office and a church, but had still been unable to find a place to volunteer.
Fritzsche suggested that the sentence be amended to "community service in Acton, if possible," but Avery objected saying, "It is very important [to the victims, members of the PTG] that she serve her community service conspicuously in Acton."
Fritzsche concurred, but left the door open in the event that she is unable to obtain a volunteer opportunity in the town.

No comments:

Post a Comment